California School District Votes to Eliminate 'Dixie' From Its Name

A school district in San Rafael, California voted on April 16 to change its name, which critics argued has ties to the Confederacy and slavery. Opponents of the name change argued that Dixie School District is actually named after a Native American woman.

The Dixie School District voted 3-1-0 in favor of changing the district’s and an elementary school’s name by August 22, the first day of school, the Marin Independent Journal reported. The bid to change the district’s name was a long-term effort, which divided the wealthy city of San Rafael.

In a petition to change the school district’s name, supporters said that a host of schools in the South, including The Citadel (a military college in South Carolina) and several high schools have done away with the Dixie name. The petition noted that country singer Dolly Parton and Disney have also nixed their connections to the name. “Regardless of how harmless members of our community may consider the name Dixie to be, there is ample evidence from educational research that real and lasting harm is done to the educational outcomes and self-esteem of students of color, who must learn in an environment where even ‘subtle’ or ‘unintentional’ messages are present honoring a history that excluded and devalued those like them,” Dr. Nicola Pitchford, Dominican University of California’s vice president for academic affairs and dean of faculty, wrote in a letter to the school board in January.

In February, the board voted against 15 possible name replacements for the school district, the Associated Press reported. Most trustees said they support the motion to change the district’s name but argued the process appeared to be rushed and they wanted input from the community.

On Tuesday, trustees approved a proposal to create an advisory group of 11 people who will solicit and evaluate name suggestions. The group must present three to five options for a new name by June 25, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. The advisory group would be comprised of four members with children in the district, four members without children in the district, two district staffers, and one graduate.

The issue has divided San Rafael, a mostly white city of 59,000 people north of San Francisco, with supporters of the name change claiming the district was named Dixie after school founder James Miller was dared by Confederate sympathizers. They also argue that the name Dixie is racially insensitive. “[T]he name Dixie connotes — intentionally or not — a dark and hateful part of our nation’s history that offends our community and beyond,” Congressman Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) said last year. “We cannot separate this issue from the broader context of our country’s struggles with racism, including the ugly resurgence of neo-Confederates and white nationalists who are trying to take us backwards.”

Dixie Elementary School fifth grader Bali Simon spoke in favor of changing the name at the school board meeting. “You know Dixie is a racist name, so change it,” she said, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. “I believe I speak for the students when I say it’s time to change the name. I’m hoping I can go back to school next fall proud of our new district name.”

Opponents, however, maintained that Miller named the district after a Miwok Native American woman he knew in the 1840s named Mary Dixie. They argued that the school board should have stood by its November 2018 decision to issue a nonbinding community vote in 2020.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, trustees spent a majority of the school board meeting discussing how they would pay for the official name change. Costs include changing signage, replacing bus lettering, and replacing marketing and administrative equipment.

Officials estimate that the cost could reach $40,000, which one board member called “extremely conservative.” The Marin Community Foundation said it would give $40,000 to cover expenses relating to the name change.

About the Author

Nicole Rojas is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has published in various venues, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Asia and Australia.